|Tattooing: a new
womens fashion rage?
Petite designs are multiplying, but so
are bolder, more visible statements of personal identity
Special to The Daily Star
Summertime in Beirut. The mercury hovers in the high 30s
and the humidity resembles that of a rainforest.
A flash of color, an image, floats through the delirium. Its a woman, yes, but the
image, the color, is that of a small butterfly, or perhaps a rose, emblazoned on a
shoulder or an ankle.
Many Lebanese men are tattooed this is not necessarily news, but what is more
surprising is the number of women who are now opting to express themselves with permanent
Judging from what can be seen in day-to-day life in Lebanon and from talking with
Beiruts tattoo artists, Lebanese women are embracing contemporary body art in
The story does not end there: Women are not only being tattooed, they are also doing the
While it is reported on the alternative lifestyle circuit that a number of women are
practicing contemporary body tattooing in Lebanon, there is only one such professional
Micheline Challita has been running her tattooing and body piercing business, Frimousse,
from her Awkar studio since 1993. It is a studio with a difference a well-presented
shop front that is conservative but tasteful in a way designed to appeal more to a female
and conventional clientele.
The premises, in fact, resemble a clinic more than a tattoo studio, testimony perhaps to
the influence of her husband, a gynecologist, and her parallel beauticians business.
Challita says being a beautician is not my style, although she admits to an
attraction to laser hair removal and electric depilation the modern technologies of
permanent hair removal Yes, wow! Its hyper.
From this interest she moved into permanent cosmetic tattooing, and then her love of
drawing and painting led her to body tattooing, which she says she learnt in Germany and
has been practicing now for around 12 years.
She does not do extensive tattooing, preferring small designs more in keeping with the
demand of women clients even though men comprise 50 percent of her tattooing clientele.
Challita tattooed her eldest daughter, now 20, when she was 16 years of age: she had a
small bird on her shoulder. But the artist says she would not allow her younger daughter,
now 16, to be tattooed; however, when she turns 18, she is free.
While waiting to interview Challita, a 16-year old girl flicked through the Frimousse
catalogue to choose a tattoo that would go above her ankle. The girl was accompanied by
her mother, reinforcing the impression that Frimousse is almost a family practice.
Challita is not the only tattoo artist doing good business with women.
Hady Beydoun of Skin Deep in Jal al-Dib has had some unusual commissions from his women
He has, for example, tattooed four Saudi princesses and some of their (female) staff on
different occasions, one of them more than once. He has rendered these services in Beirut,
but also in Cairo and Riyadh in the latter two locations on invitation with all
expenses paid. Such work, of course, is carried out with discretion.
Beydoun says his clients are equally male and female, but that perceptions of beauty are a
greater motivating factor in a woman wanting to be tattooed. Because of this, he says,
citing the case of one recent female client a lawyer who had a flower tattooed on her
forearm women are becoming more willing to display their tattoos.
He observes while men have physically bigger tattoos than women, maybe only 5
percent of tattooed people in Lebanon have extensive tattooing, such as an entire
arm or back. He says he knows one or two women who have eight or nine tattoos, but
still they are small ones and spread over the body.
Surveying Beiruts other contemporary body artists reveals some interesting insights
into the latest trends among Lebanese women.
Jean-Claude Zraiee of American Body Art in Bourj Hammoud, for example, has more female
clients than male ones, but mostly for piercing. Men and women come to him in roughly
equal numbers for tattooing.
Zraiee says eyebrow and lip liner tattooing is popular with women, but that body tattoos
are becoming more popular. Echoing Beydoun, he says womens body tattoos are mostly
small but are becoming larger and more visible another sign of changing attitudes
Albertino Feghaly of Tattoo Bikers in New Jdeideh also reports a 50-50 split between his
male and female clients. However, Feghaly also teaches cosmetic facial tattooing, and he
says 75 percent of his students are women.
Fadi Ghossein, who, on the other hand, operates a small-scale mobile tattooing business,
Tattoo Style, says most of his clients are women who have their eyebrows and lip outline
tattooed so they dont have to worry about applying makeup every day.
He also does a range of small tattoos, which he thinks are particularly suitable for
women. He says he does not like doing full-body work, and he doesnt like doing more
than four individual tattoos for any one client.
The tattooing experience of one Lebanese woman, Melina, is informing. She has two tattoos,
both executed by Feghaly. Her first, a relatively large-scale piece, is a flower running
up her left flank. The second is a pattern on the small of her back.
I see (tattoo) design as an elegant thing a certain expression of who you
are, she says.
Not just the design, but where it is on the body the whole process of selecting a
design, working on it, working out where to locate it on the body, the pain: it is
Melina emphasizes location as expression: If a tattoo is on the shoulder, you want
it to be seen; on the lower back, its more personal.
She equates elegance with discretion, saying the paradox of Lebanon is that because
tattooing is not generally accepted here, tattoos tend to be more discreet and, as a
result, more elegant.
Her appreciation of the art, however, was diminished during a recent trip to Canada, where
she thought tattooing was done in overkill. To her mind, an entire arm covered
in tattoos was a vulgar sight.
Were so desperate to grab that new, innovative thing because everythings
already been discovered but then its picked up by the many and it becomes trashy.
Thats how it was for me with tattoos in Canada trashy.
I dont believe in going to extremes, in anything, she says emphatically.
On the attitude of her parents toward her tattoos, Melina says her mother is okay
about it, she knew about it from the first, but my father would probably disagree with
it, adding that most of her tattooed female friends have had their tattoos in places
where their parents cannot see them.
This is very, very, very common in Lebanese families, she explains, before
quipping, My sister got one (a tattoo) too.
This predicament is not limited to women.
One of Beydouns heavily tattooed clients, Majed, says his mother knows of his
tattoos and does not disapprove, but that his father is not aware of his sons
passion for permanent body art.
Majed shrugs: Its my body.
Besides permanent tattoos, the Middle Eastern tradition of temporary henna tattooing is
very popular with women and is good business for body artists. For some, like Ghossein, it
constitutes the bulk of their work.
Henna is a reddish dyestuff prepared from the dried and ground leaves of the henna shrub.
The dye is applied to the skin with a brush, and the resulting tattoos last 15 to 20 days.
Thus has tattooing arrived for women in Lebanon, in all its diversity and with all its
possibilities of statement and self-expression.
Tattooing was an early form of globalization this is truer today than ever. It is a
world in which women are certainly a part, and one in which perhaps, due to the art
forms generally masculine image, they are more equal than men.